This post contains references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. The content is not provided by the advertiser and any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain. Please visit our Advertiser Disclosure to view our partners, and for additional details.
If your goal is earning free hotel stays, it’s hard to know which type of rewards card to get. While co-branded hotel credit cards are an obvious pick, general-purpose travel credit cards that let you redeem points for different kinds of travel rewards can work well for free hotel stays, too.
Which card is best? It depends on your travel style and vacation goals. Let’s dig into both types of cards to see how they work, whom they’re best for, and where they fall flat.
Co-Branded Hotel Credit Cards
Each major hotel chain — Hyatt, Carlson, Marriott, IHG, Hilton, and the like — offers a unique set of options. Where IHG only has one co-branded hotel credit card, Hilton has several. Some hotel brands offer co-branded business cards, too, giving you even more ways to rack up points.
These co-branded cards have several benefits and drawbacks, compared to more flexible travel rewards cards.
Focused Strategy Generally Nets Extra Points and Perks
Hotel credit cards can offer great value if you’re an enthusiast for a specific chain. If your family always stays at Hiltons, for example, getting the Citi Hilton HHonors might be smart. Not only do you get automatic Gold status just for being a cardholder, but you can quickly earn points on stays for free nights. Co-branded cards generally offer very high bonus points for stays at its properties. They also often feature generous sign-up bonuses that can cover free stays for a few nights. (See also: Tips for Using Hotel Reward Points to Get the Most Value)
You’re Stuck With One Chain
The downside with hotel credit cards is that they aren’t as flexible as general travel credit cards. With a co-branded hotel credit card, you can only book free nights at a hotel within that chain. So, if your travel plans change or you want to try a different hotel brand, you might be out of luck.
Award Availability May Be Limited
Another downside with hotel credit cards is that even though most major hotel brands advertise “no blackout dates” for award nights, they still may limit award availability. So, even if you have the points to burn, you may not be able to use them for the exact dates you…